2012 was among my best trip years yet

2012 planned trips map
It didn’t quite turn out this way, but it was an ambitious travel year nonetheless.

While I’ve had some amazing travel years, 2012 surprisingly ranks near the top. I made it to 39 national park units I had not yet visited, took my first big solo national park road trip, visited a few new states and two new parts of the country, made it to the first Graham family reunion in several decades, marked off a few straggling park units that had dogged me for years, rafted and backpacked in some amazing places, gained a nickname for visiting all three specimens competing for the title of the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, started a new quest to hit all of the highest points of relatively flat states, and stopped by over one hundred roadside oddities and attractions. And, of course, created some fabulous memories. Continue reading 2012 was among my best trip years yet

Roadtripping the national parks in my Forester

Since its purchase in 2006, my Subaru Forester—named Betsy—has been a constant companion in my quest to visit every national park unit. The vehicle has transported Kim and I on some of our best road trips, whether that’s our Great American Roadtrip in 2007, our wedding post-wedding roadtrip in 2008, or many others. There have been a great many memories produced in the vehicle—the mystery rodent that chewed through our backseat fabric in Glacier, attempting to sleep on far too thick of air mattresses in the back of the vehicle at a random rest stop somewhere in California, or enduring a gauntlet of 70mph wind, dust, rain, hail, and snow on a drive to Utah with my kayak strapped to the roof for the very first time, to name a few.

Last week, I took what is probably my last national park road trip with Betsy: a long overdue visit to Chaco Culture National Historical Park—one of the first places we had intended to go once we got it. It was a last minute change of plans that had me take the Forester on that trip, but it was great to bring her out one last time, and especially to a remote park that requires a significant drive on dirt roads to access.

With 175,000 miles on her, and several significant repairs I’ve been delaying, and only one long national park road trip to the Pacific Northwest remaining (I’ll fly to the northeastern parks from now on), she’s likely finally retired from her road trip career. While I’d love to do some more long roadtrips with her, I’m also happy shuttling around my kayak and mountain bike around the state. Thanks for all of the lifelong roadtripping memories.


Pleasant surprises in the national parks

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about my national park quest is that it pushes me to visit places I wouldn’t otherwise visit. It encourages me to step outside of what I know and am interested in to at least dabble in something new. I may not come away with a deep appreciation of that topic, but at least I’ll know a little bit more about it. Or, at the very least, know more about how I feel about it.

There have been a few of these places along the way. George Rogers Clark National Historic Park’s huge granite memorial, which clearly deserved to be the central attraction of a major city but was instead plopped down seemingly nowhere. The visitor center at Brown vs Board of Education National Historic Site, which stands as the most emotionally moving I’ve seen. The incredibly high tree canopy of Congaree National Park, the largest remnant of an old growth floodplain forest on the continent, which seems tucked away in South Carolina. And so forth.

Add to that list Vicksburg National Military Park. Well, at least two components of it. I was greatly impressed with the Illinois Monument, which reminded me a bit of both the archives building and the George Rogers Clark memorial I mentioned above. And I was completely caught off guard by the USS Cairo (pronounced KAY-row). I remember seeing a picture of an armor-clad Civil War battleship back in school, but had no idea that we were going to see one until we turned the corner on the driving tour. Both unleashed those unexpected fleeting moments of excitement when you first realize that there’s something much cooler to this place than you had anticipated. The thrill of discovery, you might call it.

Touring the national parks has focused our attention on learning more about the country in which we live; experiencing, at least within a narrow focus, some of what it’s meant to be American or experience a bit of America. There have been a few disappointing parks we’ve visited, but it’s always because we wanted to learn more than the park has resources to provide. And even in those disappointments, we gain a new understanding of the natural or cultural heritage that we must continue to protect. But most of the time, we walk away excited and awed by some magnificent fact or memorable experience of a place we may not ever had taken the trouble to see. It’s these kinds of pleasant surprises that energize me through the year in protecting a new set of worthy places.

Roadtripping without our Forester

Our Forester in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

It feels like we’re being unfaithful.

In less than 72 hours, Kim and I will be departing on another of our national park roadtrips. It’ll be the first time we’ll be roadtripping sans Forester since we got her. It feels a little weird.

It’s the right decision to leave her at home – she’s in need of new tires, struts, and her check engine light has been blazing for a month or two now. And we’ll save some serious gas money on the trip, too. But we’ve created enough memories with her that it’s odd to plan a trip in a different vehicle.

Not that it’s been uncommon for us to take a trip in a borrowed vehicle. Our first trip together, to Las Vegas in March 1997, featured us rolling down Las Vegas Boulevard in my dad’s Cadillac (we didn’t even own a working car back then). We borrowed Jessica’s old – well, I forget what it was, but it was old – car to get to Mt Rainier National Park in 2002. And we’ve put nearly as many highway miles on my mom’s Highlander as she has. We enjoyed roadtrips in our Altima years ago, but even then, we often opted for my mom’s SUV.

This time, we’re borrowing my dad’s Prius (thanks Dad!). It’ll save us about $300 in gas on the trip, and well, its check engine light isn’t on. But it won’t be without its challenges. Our favorite cooler doesn’t fit in the trunk, and I’m not even sure our backup cooler will. It doesn’t have an auxillary jack for the iPod, or amazingly, even a cd player (I guess we’re back to using those cassette tape adaptors). It “features” golf-related bumper stickers. Worst of all is that we won’t be able to add to our (incomplete) collection of photos of the Forester in national park units. Or capture a shot of the odometer as it digitally rolls over to 130,000 miles. Or…well, you get the picture.

It’s funny how attached you can get to an old friend…

Pictures from our Texas national park roadtrip

Big Bend National Park

It’s taken me nearly a year, but I finally posted pictures from our national park roadtrip to Texas last winter. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long, but it’s clear that I’m losing some of the excitement of getting the perfect trip photos online. In fact, I spend noticeably less time taking pictures on trips (and am more likely to use my point-and-shoot than lug around my dslr), and I’m also taking far less time to edit, name, describe, and tag the photos I do take. So, please excuse the following albums for not containing those details…I’ll see if I can’t add some of them later on.

If you’d like to review the trip, we made sure to blog each night:

Our next trip starts in a few days, and if things go as planned, we’ll continue to blog each night. And yes, this time I’ll be sure to get the photos up much sooner.

Where we went this summer

It’s been a couple of months since we returned from our post-wedding roadtrip through the South. It was an interesting trip, one that didn’t much resemble our usual national park trips: we stayed in a hotel every night, we spent most of our time at historical sites (as opposed to natural sites), and, well, we were in the South, not the West. It’s been a busy few months and it’ll still be some time before we get all of the trip photos sorted, culled, and posted, but here’s the final tally for the sites we visited:

  1. Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHS
  2. Andrew Johnson NHS
  3. Appalachian NST
  4. Arkansas Post NM
  5. Big South Fork NRRA
  6. Blue Ridge PKWY
  7. Brices Cross Roads NBS
  8. Carl Sandburg Home NHS
  9. Chattahoochee River NRA
  10. Chickamauga & Chattanooga NMP
  11. Congaree NP
  12. Cowpens NB
  13. Cumberland Gap NHP
  14. Fort Donelson NB
  15. George Rogers Clark NHP
  16. Great Smoky Mountains NP
  17. Hot Springs NP
  18. Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
  19. Kennesaw Mountain NBP
  20. Kings Mountain NMP
  21. Lincoln Boyhood NMem
  22. Lincoln Home NHS
  23. Little River Canyon NPres
  24. Little Rock Central High School NHS
  25. Mammoth Cave NP
  26. Martin Luther King Jr NHS
  27. Moores Creek NB
  28. Natchez Trace NST
  29. Natchez Trace PKWY
  30. Ninety Six NHS
  31. Obed WSR
  32. Russell Cave NM
  33. Shiloh NMP
  34. Stones River NB
  35. Tupelo NB
  36. Ulysses S Grant NHS

I think that puts my lifetime total to 156 units (of 391 total).

Edit: Check out the NPS Passport Stamps we collected.